(Second Viewing, On Blu-ray, December 2019) There will always be a very special place in my heart for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, for reasons almost entirely unconnected to its quality as a movie—it was the first movie I decided to go see in theatres, along with a bunch of friends. Given that I saw maybe a handful movies in theatres before I was sixteen (growing up lower-middle-class in a small Eastern Ontario town with the nearest movie theatre twenty kilometres away meant that I only started “going to the movies” once I had my driver’s license), I will always consider Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country the movie at which point I started seeing new releases in theatres rather than on TV. At the time, my love for Star Trek ensured that I would assess the movie as terrific—but as it turns out, writer-director Nicholas Meyer’s work still holds up as one of the best of the Trek movies. It’s not quite as tight as The Wrath of Khan nor as funny as The Voyage Home, the plot has its dubious moments, and it’s often far too obvious about its humour, its Shakespearian references or links to circa-1990s geopolitics, but The Undiscovered Country is about as good as TOS Trek ever gets—there’s some good material here between the characters, core values of the series and movie-grade production values (despite some dated early-1990s CGI) to make this a very decent swan song for the Original Crew. The plot blends series-altering changes, a murder mystery, galactic politics, humour, courtroom drama, a prison break, a rather good space battle with a triumphant finale and some welcome character evolution in having Sulu captain his own ship. The core trio of the series (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Kelley Deforest) takes a bit too much space, but there are a few guest stars such as Christopher Plummer (hamming it up Shakespeare-style) and Iman to keep things interesting. To modern viewers, I suspect that the film will feel a bit stodgy—compared to modern aesthetics (as demonstrated by the 2009 Star Trek reboot, for instance), it does feel a bit stage-bound, a bit made-for-TV especially now that TV often has higher production values. Still, for those who were sixteen in 1991, I still found a lot to like in this revisit to The Undiscovered Country.
(Second Viewing, On Blu-ray, November 2018) Somehow, I ended up re-watching Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home exactly 32 years to the day after its release in theatres, a coincidence that I only realized while reading about the movie afterwards. I anticipated a happy re-watch and was not disappointed: The Voyage Home is fondly remembered as one of the funniest episodes of the movie series and with good reason, what with the crew of the Enterprise ending up in mid-1980s San Francisco through time travel shenanigans. The humour comes from seeing familiar characters trying to deal with the “real world” and fighting against contemporary obstacles to achieve their goals. The science-fiction elements are decent (thanks to series MVP writer/director Nicholas Meyer), the character work is fine, Leonard Nimoy turns in a fine performance as the director, and The Voyage Home ably wraps up a three-film cycle for the series. In the grand scheme of the movie series, it does work as a change of pace—to the 1980s setting (now charmingly dated), to a lighter tone, to a break after the intensive drama of the second and third films. As we now know, the series would continue its uneven pattern (even instalments = good; odd instalments = worse) and land next in Star Trek V, but that’s fine: Another re-watch of Star Trek IV can make everything all right again.
(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, October 2018) Now this is how you make a Star Trek movie. Learning from the lessons of the infamously slow-paced Star Trek: The Motion Picture, here comes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to set things right. From better uniforms to a pair of great space battles to a memorable antagonist to a thematic exploration of character flaws to zippy pacing and reasonable odds, this film still stands as one of the most-improved sequels in Hollywood history. Writer/director Nicholas Meyer wraps surprisingly dense (and appropriate) thematic concerns in a relatively short running time. I hadn’t seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in a long time, and I had forgotten that the film is efficiently contained to, essentially, a bridge set and a handful of other locations. Kirstie Alley shows up in an early role as a young officer, the innovative CGI sequence still looks good, the actors are comfortable with their characters (with William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban free to scream as much as they’d like), the film builds upon the existing series mythology and we do get the feeling of a story slightly too big to fit in an hour-long episode, but well aligned with the rest of the franchise. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is still a really good movie by anyone’s standards, but it also remains a particularly good Star Trek movie, perhaps still the best one so far.
(Second viewing, On Cable TV, March 2018) I remember seeing Time After Time as a teenager and liking it quite a lot. A second viewing only confirms that the film is a surprisingly enjoyable time-travel fantasy involving no less than H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper travelling through time to late-1970s San Francisco. With Malcolm McDowell (as an atypically heroic protagonist), David Warner (as the Ripper) and the ever-radiant Mary Steenburgen as the modern foil for the Victorians visitors. The plot is a big lend of genre elements, but it’s a measure of the success of its execution that even the hackneyed “fish-out-of-water” moments don’t come across as irritating—it helps that Wells’ character is written as a smart person, and so is able to adjust to the environment as quickly as one could manage. The script gets clever in the last act, although maybe not quite as clever as it could have been—it scratches the surface of what’s possible with access to a time machine, but doesn’t really get going with the possibilities. (And I’m still mildly disturbed that one minor sympathetic character is allowed to die and remain dead because she wasn’t the main sympathetic character.) Still, minor quibbles aside, Time After Time has aged well. The late-seventies San Francisco setting has become a nice period piece, while seeing Wells and Ripper face off is good for a few nice ideological exchanges about the nature of then-modern society. (We haven’t progressed very much in forty years.) Writer/director Nicholas Meyer went on write and direct two of the best Star Trek movies (II and VI) but I’m not sure that he ever topped Time After Time’s blend of suspense, humour and imagination. A strong cast, clever writing and competent directing ensure that Time After Time will remain a good solid genre choice for years to come.